Wine and bread, the well-balanced products of human toil, the divine and the human united. The divine ecstasy of wine was regarded as the unseen manifestation of the spirit which dies and rises again. Wine, primordial symbol of divine possession. In ‘vine-rich’ Thrace, thickly dotted with vineyards, the deified ancestor Dionysos or Bacchos taught the art of viticulture.
According to Homer (Odyssey IX, 210), ‘He used to pour one cupful [of the wine of Ismaros] into twenty of water, and the sweet fumes that came up from the bowl were irresistible.’ ‘In thanks to the giver of the fruits’, in Thrace and elsewhere on 6 August, the feast of the Transfiguration, grapes are offered in church as first-fruits, following the decision of the Third Oecumenical Council, which ordained (on pain of unfrocking) that the priest should bless the offering of grapes. In the Byzantine period, those who stole grapes were stripped and severely whipped; and if they were vineguards, their salary was docked.
It is said that, on their vine-rich land, because they did not have appropriate means of processing it, and also owing to the sheer volume produced, the Thracians were unable to dispose of the blessed fruit otherwise than by using wine instead of water in the mortar for their houses.
Until recent years the grape-harvest was still a very important festive ritual in Thrace. Tubs, presses, and barrels were carried on carts drawn by buffaloes decorated with pompoms and bells, their halters hung with trinkets. Young women with vine garlands in their hair and young men led the procession, singing, dancing, and joking, to the tune of the bagpipe, the lyre, and the tambourine. The treading of the grapes was followed by the ceremonial of sweetmeats made with wine and must: grape syrup, boiled fruit in syrup, must-jellies.
The grape which is left in the press after the grape juice has been drawn off is put in a bronze cauldron called the rakokazano. The lid is put on, and it is connected with a pipe from a water cistern. All the joints are sealed well with bran and water and the fire is lit. As the steam passes through the water it cools, liquefies, and slowly drips into the container with the hydrometer.